Friday, February 14, 2003

Jesus' Teaching Methods

This is part 3 of a series that examines the methods Jesus used to teach His disciples and the multitudes. The series covers these topics:

  1. Teaching as One with Authority
  2. Offending the Mind to Reveal the Heart
  3. A Cloaking Device
  4. One Story That Tells It All

You can get to any of the available lessons by clicking on the lesson title. If nothing happens you are either already at the lesson, or I have not written it yet.

A Cloaking Device

The last lesson told how Jesus offended the leaders from Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. He spoke His forgiveness to a paralyzed man and the leaders accused Jesus of blaspheming. Jesus, then, healed the man, which should have set all things right. It didn't.

It is a challenging time when one's worldview clashes with tangible evidence that would contradict it. You can hold off the inevitable, but either you will change your worldview or give lie to the evidence. The leaders' worldview did not include a Messiah who could forgive sins and claimed to be one with the Father. But they had to acknowledge the validity of Jesus' miracles. He was no charlatan. Something had to give. 

C.S. Lewis spoke of Jesus being either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. There was nothing about Jesus' character that they could defame; they could not call Him a liar. They would not acknowledge Him as Lord. Accordingly, they concluded that He was a lunatic:

Now Jesus went home, and a crowd gathered so that they were not able to eat. When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” The experts in the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and, “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons.” (Mark 3:20-22, The Net Bible)

Jesus made an attempt to correct their error:

So he called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom will not be able to stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan rises against himself and is divided, he is not able to stand and his end has come. But no one is able to enter a strong man’s house and steal his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly plunder his house. I tell you the truth, people will be forgiven for all sins, even all the blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin (because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit’).” (Mark 3:23-30)

But the word went out anyway that Jesus was possessed and that His powers came from the pit of hell. It was these reports that led Mary to travel with Jesus' brothers to fetch Him home.

The less you listen, the harder it is for you to hear. Jesus' response to this accusation was to alter His teaching. Instead of plain teaching, such as we have with the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus began to teach in parables. Parables are stories that tell a deeper truth, if you can decode them. Jesus' first parable was about His teaching ministry from the beginning to its rejection:

Again he began to teach by the lake. And such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there while the whole crowd was on the shore by the lake. He taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it did not have much soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. When the sun came up it was scorched, and because it did not have a root, it withered. Other seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked it, and it did not produce grain. But other seed fell on good soil and produced grain, sprouting and growing; some bore thirty times as much, some sixty, and some a hundred times.” And he said, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!” (Mark 4:1-9)

Here is the story with deeper meaning. The actors and events represent spiritual realities. Once you know the code, you know what those realities are. And then reflecting on the particulars can often lead to more truth. The sower is the Lord, the seed is His message, and the soil is the hearts of men and women. His disciples are the good soil, the leaders the hard road side. Who was able to hear?

Jesus used parables to hide His message from those who rejected His plain messages:

When he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. He said to them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables, so that although they look they may look but not see, and although they hear they may hear but not understand, so they may not repent and be forgiven. (Mark 4:10-12)

The twelve were interested in the sudden change, so they asked Jesus about it. Since they had been listening all along, they could continue to have the parables decoded. But to those who had rejected Him, the purpose of the parables was to cut them off even more. Many find Jesus' words "so they may not repent and be forgiven." troubling, and with good reason.

The first thing that I would say to those who are troubled is this: Jesus will offend the mind to reveal the heart. Treat these words as an offense to your mind. Will you judge Him? Rather you should say to Him, "Where can I go? You have the words of eternal life." Do not be like the Jewish leaders who would not change their view of the world and accept Jesus on His terms.

The second thing that I would say is to look at the types of fools in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs speaks of the naive, which are like young children who do not yet know the dangers of the world. It speaks of the young people, which are a bit wiser, but lack discernment and discretion. Then there is the fool, who is old enough to know better, but doesn't. The sluggard is the lazy fool. According to proverbs, each of these types of fools can become wise in living life. Proverbs speaks of another class of fool, for which there is little hope of change. That is the scoffer or scorner. This is the person that has a disdain for wisdom and is too good for it. Proverbs tell us to leave them be:

Do not reprove a mocker or he will hate you; reprove a wise person and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)

Drive out the scorner and contention will leave; strife and insults will cease. (Proverbs 22:10)

Whoever corrects a mocker is asking for insult; whoever reproves a wicked person receives abuse. (Proverbs 9:7)

Notice how Jesus' use of parables corresponds to these proverbs. His parables gave no reproof to the mockers who could not understand them. They kept the scorners at a distance and, therefore, created more peace among those who followed Him.

I wrote earlier about the enviable opportunity that the disciples had to hear and see Jesus. To not only have His words, but to hear the tone in which he spoke them and to observe His body language. They saw His miracles. Those who rejected Jesus had the same. To see so much and reject did damage to the soul that put it almost beyond reach. The writer to the Hebrews (first century Messianic Jews) put it this way:

For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is useless and about to be cursed; its fate is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:4-8)

The leaders in Jesus' day heard saw Him, felt the presence of the Holy Spirit giving Him power, heard His good words, and saw His miracles. When they rejected the evidence before them, Jesus cut them off from hearing and experiencing more. To continue in the open would have driven them to destroy Him before His time. It would also have increased the judgment that would come their way. Jesus showed mercy to them by cloaking His message.

Jesus was always in control.

Monday: The One Story to Bind Them

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